PMO: Dr Mahathir never said AirAsia’s alleged bribes as offset payments

by RAHIMI YUNUS / pic by TMR FILE PIX

THE Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) has clarified that Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad (picture) has never suggested the alleged bribes involving AirAsia Group Bhd’s top executives were “offset” payments.

It added that media reports that alluded to the PM suggesting allegations of bribery against AirAsia as being offset payments were therefore inaccurate and misleading.

PMO said in a statement last week that Dr Mahathir was saying an offset is normal for big purchases by the government and it was not in reference to AirAsia, when answering questions by the media last Thursday.

“In answering to questions by the press, he pointed out that it is normal for the government to request for offset to benefit from big purchases. He did not say that AirAsia was benefiting from this normal practice.”

“He said that only if the money goes to individuals then it becomes a bribe. If it is not for personal benefit then it is not a bribe in his view,” PMO said.

The office also said that it is up to the investigators to determine whether it is a bribe or not.

“The PMO views seriously such misleading reports and reports that do not accurately reflect what is said by the PM. The PMO, therefore, wishes to advise the media to be more sensitive as misleading reports could have undesirable consequences on the public’s understanding of issues,” it said.

In an event last week, Dr Mahathir said, as an example, Malaysia in the past had purchased fighter jets and planes and in return sought offsets in the form of setting up engineering, technical, and maintenance, repair and overhaul centres.

AirAsia and its long-haul sister company AirAsia X Bhd (AAX) are embroiled in a bribery scandal related to jet deals with Airbus SE.

AirAsia’s executive chairman Datuk Kamarudin Meranun and CEO Tan Sri Dr Tony Fernandes vacated their executive positions for two months, although both remain as advisors.

Fernandes and Kamarudin maintained their innocence over the allegations.

The Serious Fraud Office (SFO) — a specialist prosecuting authority tackling the top level of serious or complex fraud, bribery and corruption in the UK — did not name the two AirAsia executives, but described them as “key decision makers” in AirAsia and AAX, substantial shareholders of the two airlines and on the board of directors of AAX.

Two executives of the discount carrier were rewarded with US$50 million (RM204.8 million) of sponsorship for a sports team and offered an additional US$55 million in respect of 180 aircraft orders from Airbus, agreed between 2005 and 2014, according to the SFO.

Malaysian authorities including the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission, Securities Commissions Malaysia and Malaysian Aviation Commission are investigating the matter.